By December 24, 2011 3 Comments Read More →

The Light of the World

Yes, an atheist can celebrate Christmas.

He was born on December 25th.  It was a virgin birth.  A star in the east indicated his birth and three kings followed that star with many gifts in their possession.  Once they reached this new born baby, they adorned him with their gifts.  They knew this child was special.  When this child reached the age of twelve, he became something of a teacher, often getting into theological debates with other religious leaders, often astounding those who were listening, this mere child being so knowledgeable and intelligent.  By the age of thirty, he was baptized and went on preaching throughout his community.  He had twelve disciples.  This unique man often performed miracles: healing the sick and according to some accounts, even walked on water.  He became known as “The Lamb of God” and “The Light of the World.”  But some were resentful of him and he was eventually betrayed by one of his own disciples.  He was taken in by the authorities, tried and eventually crucified.  He died at the crucifixion, was buried and three days later, he was resurrected.

I am speaking, of course, of the Egyptian god Horus; and Attis of Greece; and Krishna of India; and Dionysus of Greece; and Mithra of Persia; and Bemrillah of the Druids; and Quexalcote of Mexico; and Fohi and Tien of China; oh, and yes, of course, Jesus of Nazareth.

What is the point of bringing all this up and showing how all these very same attributes fit so many different figures throughout the history of mankind?  Is this my contribution to “The War on Christmas”?  Absolutely not.  On the contrary.  This is simply my way of showing how myths and legends endure and how a myth or legend from tens of thousands of years ago, invented mostly by oral cultures, can still endure tens of thousands of years later.  Tweaked a little here, embellished a little there, but essentially the very same stories that were being told around fires and in caves and out on the plains for tens of millennia and obviously these stories must have resonated for them to survive for as long as they have and specifically, these particular attributes must also reach something deep within us for them to be the same ones over and over again.  No, this is not my “War on Christmas”; it is to show how yes, even an atheist can celebrate Christmas if he or she chooses to do so.

All of this comes to mind over a typical twenty-first century “Gotcha!” moment that often occurs in my day to day life.  Speaking with an acquaintance about Christmas and how I intended to celebrate this year, the “Gotcha!” claw tried to reach out and grab me.  “You’re an atheist!  How can you celebrate Christmas!”  In a time where every word uttered from every mouth is scrutinized and picked apart by the vultures of culture, language and often political punditry, I guess it’s no surprise that one would try to make this a controversial subject.  My first answer would be, “What do you care?  Do you really care, or are you just trying to show me up as a “hypocrite”, thereby making some value judgment to make yourself feel better about yourself?”  Of course, when the modern mind is preoccupied with senseless trivialities and what passes for meaningful discussion these days, this should come as no surprise at all.  So all the above facts mentioned at the beginning of this article was meant to show where this very sacred and solemn belief system that “real” God fearing Christians hold actually comes from.  What you are celebrating is not the birth of Jesus but are in fact participating in a long line of myths and legends that date back long before there was any notion of Jesus, the Bible or even Judaism or Christianity; long before any notion of nationhood, long before any notion of ethnicity, but practices of wandering tribes who settled in their tiny communities throughout the planet Earth shortly after the Ice Age – and who knows, perhaps even during the Ice Age – and maybe even hundreds of thousands of years before that.  In case you didn’t know, the human race did actually exist before you became a part of it.

With that said, the story of Jesus and his ministry is also an enduring one.  The message of this man is still not lost on the rest of us, whether one believes in God or not, whether one believes Jesus was divine or not.  All of the stories of this man all relate to one thing: the way we should treat each other as fellow human beings.  His message was one of love, compassion, empathy.  His message was that there were far more important things for human beings to contemplate than our simple material wants and selfish desires; that our fellow human beings are also deserving of respect.  This is the enduring legacy of Jesus of Nazareth’s message.  It is also the message of those who came before him and many who came after him.  So if Christmas is supposed to be a holiday commemorating this man and what he stood for why not take that into account and try to apply that meaning in your own life rather than looking for flaws in others and trying to show them up by nitpicking through the theological and cultural minutia in order to drag another human being down?  Is that the message you take with you during this holiday?  Is that the message the one you say you revere teaches?

The attributes described above are only part of the reason why I am an atheist.  No, I don’t believe that Jesus was the “son of God.”  No, I don’t believe Jesus was a divine figure.  No, I don’t believe in half the stories attributed to him.  To my mind, Jesus was a figure who is both truth and legend but in the end it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is the message and what we can learn from his story; and if Christmas is to really mean anything, then people should concentrate more on the message rather than the attributes and self-righteous pontifications that make one feel superior to someone else.  Remember, there are many cultures around the world where the story of Jesus and Christmas means absolutely nothing.  They call come from differing cultural traditions and have their own stories to tell.

So yes, my friend, an atheist can celebrate Christmas if they so choose.  And this particular atheist will continue to do so, regardless of what you have to say or think about it.  I do it for my own reasons and it is my right to do so.  Maybe, just maybe, if you concentrated more on your own life and reflected upon the actual meaning of the holiday you say you revere, then you would spend less time trying to tear another down in your pathetic attempt to feel better about yourself.  Concentrate on what it is supposed to mean since, you can see, what you think you are celebrating has been around for a very long time, long before the man you revere even walked this earth.  Obviously, you don’t understand the message.

With that said, Merry Christmas.



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Posted in: Columns, Julian Gallo

About the Author:

Born and raised in New York City. I am a musician/writer/painter who has poems and short stories published in about 40 magazines and journals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe and also has 12 books under his belt:
"Standing On Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion" (Alpha Beat Press, 1996), "The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face" (Black Spring Press, 1999), "Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes" (Budget Press, 2000), "Scrape That Violin More Darkly Then Hover Like Smoke In The Air" (Black Spring Press, 2001), "Existential Labyrinths" (Black Spring Press, 2003), "Window Shopping For A New Crown of Thorns" (Lulu Press, 2007), "November Rust" (Lulu Press, 2007), "My Arrival Is Marked By Illuminating Stains" (Lulu Press 2007), "A Symphony of Olives" (Propaganda Press, 2009) and "Divertimiento" (Propaganda Press, 2009). His second novel "Naderia" was released in January 2011 and his third, "Be Still and Know That I Am" (Beat Corrida) was released in September 2011. He is also currently playing guitar and bass for NYC singer/songwriter Linda La Porte. View My Profile

  • Great article Julian, I simply loved it.

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  • It’s so interesting that you brought this up because I got into a debate with someone over this very thing recently. I am agnostic…well, more like apathetic. My friend, on the other hand, is extremely religious.

    I reminded her that Christmas is not a celebration of the birth of Jesus; in fact, Jesus was most likely born in the spring. Additionally, the original Christmas-like celebration was January 6th, and was called the Epiphany. It wasn’t until the Romans moved the date to coincide with the winter solstice festivals(as a way to get pagans to convert to Christianity) that we started celebrating it on the December 25th. Eventually (during the Middle Ages) that the tradition of gift giving and merriment started.

    Over the years different groups have changed these events to match their own ideals and agendas, and there is nothing noble about that. Certainly nothing God would want if he does exist. I think your quote summarizes it best, “His message was that there were far more important things for human beings to contemplate than our simple material wants and selfish desires; that our fellow human beings are also deserving of respect.”

    I enjoy Christmas as a civil celebration. It’s exciting to get everyone together, eat great food, and have a day off to just have fun with those we love the most. You don’t need to be religious to do that.

    Great article, Julian.

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  • Perfectly put, Julian! 🙂

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